Brazil: Tense Foreign Relations with Venezuela and Cuba

The uncustomary retraction of the invitation for Venezuela and Cuba to Jair Bolsonaro`s inauguration has only apparently been a decision made by Brazil`s Foreign Ministry (called Itamaraty). In fact, there has been no such recommendation neither now nor previously. Instead, the political move stems from Bolsonaro`s inner circle. It can be understood as a strategic move to send a clear signal against socialism to the domestic electoral constituency.

With this decision, Bolsonaro proves that he is serious about his “villainization process” vis-á-vis the socialist regimes. Even before Ernesto Araújo will take over the Foreign Ministry, the Itamaraty had been dictated a clear policy line: Brazilian foreign affairs will from now on be dependent on domestic affairs.

 

Cooling-down of Diplomatic Relations

Being aware of the international community`s critical appraisal of Brazil`s development, the diplomatic corps of Itamaraty is worried about its deteriorating relations to Venezuela and Cuba. It is possible that the Brazilian Ambassadors from Havana and Caracas will be withdrawn. In an extreme scenario, the diplomatic relations to both countries could be cancelled altogether.

However, such a potential cancellation does not automatically cause the desist of trade relations as has been shown in Brazilian history. In 1958, during the government of Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil revived trade relations with the Soviet Union although diplomatic relations remained suspended based on a vote in the senate.

 

Relations to the USA

The decision could potentially be connected to the US` foreign relations or even constitute some sort of “ingratiation”. However, representatives of both countries were present during Trump`s inauguration in January 2017.

Nevertheless, Trump`s government would surely appreciate Brazil`s dissociation from Iran which is currently facing severe economic sanctions by the US. From a pragmatic point of view, this would be a costly decision for Bolsonaro. Brazil has a high trade surplus with Iran. From January until September 2018 the surplus equaled $4,5 billion due to the corn exports which had increased by 520%. During the same time, the surplus was only superseded by trade with China ($20 billion). Bolsonaro is also planning to reduce trade relations with China based on its politics.

 

Another foreign focus is Israel. Everything points to Bolsonaro keeping his promise in terms of moving the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as did Trump. An even bigger gesture vis-à-vis the US would be for Brazil to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel`s capital which could be done by an executive decree from the president himself.

To what degree Bolsonaro will adopt Trump`s foreign policies and which economic consequences this will entails remains to be seen.